Friday, October 24, 2008


If you go to the link above (and if it still exists at the Great Falls Tribune), you’ll be able to read some of the comments generated by the incident I described in a previous post ("Cut Bank Racist Violence"). I downloaded them this morning so I could look a little more closely.

At one end of the spectrum is Calvin Tatsey’s comment (note that he’s using his real name) invoking professionalism and legal duties in a dignified way, even using “Mister” in the NYTimes manner. At the low end (that which survived editing) is name-calling and a lot of accusations that have little to do with the subject and a lot to do with being poor and feeling downtrodden.

The most worrisome assumption, to my mind, is that violence is okay (or at least only a misdemeanor) and if it’s a bar fight (actually I think it was at closing time in the parking lot) then no sanctions can be enforced because what can you expect? Everybody in a bar is racist or up to no good in the first place and that guy who got beat up should never have been there in the first place.

Maybe the best way to look at these comments is in terms of games people play. Nothing surprising in the games and nothing to be blamed for, but these are the strategies I see so far:

1. The Medicine Line Game AKA Jurisdictions:
“It’s only bad on this side or that side”; or “Stay on your own side,” or “My side is none of your business.”

2. Blame the Victim: “If the victim was in a bar, he shouldn’t have been there. Only bad people go in bars.”

3. Uproar:
“You hate me, you’ve always hated me, and that’s why you hate me!”

4. The Uber Motive: “Must be drugs involved.”

5. Playing it Down:
“Oh, it was just violence. The name-calling was just, um...”

6. My Hero:
“All public officials are blameless because they’re important people and they wouldn’t be public officials if they were crooked. And if they’ve been in office a long time, that proves they’re doing a good job.”

7. Rez vs. County:
“Hey, seven-mile strip! Smile when you see me coming! See this voting finger? See this checkbook?”

8. Super Stay Outta the Joints:
“Do your shopping in Kalispell.”

9. Changing the subject:
“And those shopkeepers all think that Indians are shoplifters!”

10. Invoking myths:
“Indians get a free ride, unlike whites who have to work for a living.”

11. Blaming the messenger: “All bad stuff belongs under the rug.”

12. The Sins of the Fathers: “Europeans invaded our country, gave us smallpox and took the land. Therefore, I'm entitled to this can of snoose.”

Off the top of my head, it looks to me as though the GF Tribune could do us all a service by pointing out exactly what payments in what sort of amounts "Indians" actually get and where it comes from, what the rates of welfare payments and various entitlements like SSI are between the rez and the rest of the county, etc. etc. and then put that in the context of ag and oil subsidies. I think that many people can't distinguish between income from trusts managed by the BIA, profits derived from tribal enterprise, and government targeted funds meant for compensation or development. Probably there are a lot of tribal members who don’t think much about where their money comes from either.

As far as being considered shoplifting suspects, I must confess that I'm often shadowed and suspected by shopowners whenever I'm not dressed up. And Indians who ARE dressed and groomed nicely are left alone. KIDS of all kinds are suspects. It’s more of a class issue than a race issue, but class and race overlap.

I was interested that the bartenders in the story had Hutterite names. I wonder what those dynamics are. I'm aware of single Hutterite men here and there who sort of interface between the colony and the "outside." Do they not marry? Are they outcasts or just not settled down?

Academics with big emphasis on Marxist and post-colonial theory have done some mischief. They depend upon indignation to whip up interest in their classes, but they themselves don’t go to reservations, not even to address those issues or research them. They take no care for the use of the ideas to justify some pretty bad behavior and to fan racism.

I'm impressed that so many people are out there keyboarding, though they have a tendency to spell like Lewis & Clark and to get locked into one-on-one sword fights instead of advancing the topic.

What seems clear to me is that the underlying government, the human infrastructure, as it were, is being overwhelmed by the changes in society. The good ol’ boy network that meets in the back room to decide how to deal with trouble has gone the way of Deadwood.

Montana, it’s generally agreed, has a great many counties -- probably more than necessary because of the efforts of one historical person who went around the state selling the idea of creating new counties. They are not rationally based, nor do they match natural constituencies. In fact, the state’s voting districts are so tortured that some include more grizzly bears than people, with even less consensus than one might expect between those two populations. Most were created in the days of horse travel. I’ve seen almost no analysis of how an Indian reservation ought to be treated in regard to a county. A reservation cannot ever be the same as a county because treaties (which are higher legally than state laws) give reservations the status of sovereign countries. Yet many functions such as welfare or marriages are handled on reservations by county and state entities, by agreement with the tribe.

The public schools are state institutions supervised by the county school superintendent, but that public office has greatly changed, as have the duties and responsibilities of the county attorney and probably the sheriff. Water quality, irrigation districts, conservation districts, and a host of other entities carve up the territory in confusing ways. What about hospitals, transportation, grocery supply lines?

When so much of the population is transient, few people really understand these geography-based entities, what they do, how they are paid for, where the lines are. I would suggest a “citizen’s handbook” to be kept in the county libraries, but who would pay for it? Maybe something online would work, or at least help. How many would stir themselves to read it? So much easier to complain, to stigmatize, to blame others, to just let things go along as though they really were inevitable. In the meantime, let the full weight of ALL the laws come down on the Fighting Molendas.

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